Your guide to feel-good travel in 2023
Restorative retreats and beautiful locations to explore this year
image James Wheeler / Getty
words Lucy O'Brien
Babes, you deserve a holiday. But not just any holiday – one that really allows you to detach, unwind and give yourself a well-earned break. Welcome to woo’s feel-good guide to travel: from wellness retreats to enchanting natural wonders, these locations are some of the finest places this planet has to offer your mind, body and soul (as well as providing fodder for the occasional IG photo dump). You know, hotels in treetops, stargazing in igloos, yoga retreats – that sort of thing.
It’s no secret that spending time outdoors can have massive benefits on both your mental and physical health. And recent research has even confirmed that taking day trips are good for helping you feel young, independent and happy. It’s also important to note that travelling doesn’t always have to involve a jam-packed itinerary; it’s just as important to give yourself the time and space to escape reality and truly relax. In fact, a recent report conducted by Expedia based on a survey of 2,000 UK travellers found that one in four people are currently dreaming of taking a nothing-cation: trips that are free from the pressure to go traditional sight-seeing and instead, simply do, well, nothing.
Needless to say, travel can be an essential form of self-care. But unless you’re a seasoned backpacker, it can be hard to know where to begin planning your next travelling escapade. That’s why we’ve rounded up some of the most unique feel-good hotspots across the globe to add to your bucket lists. Passports, bumbags and SPF at the ready, here’s some inspo for your 2023 vision boards…
Places to stay
Birds’ nest resort, China
Talk about getting closer to nature. Situated within the beautiful mountainous forests of Yalong Bay Paradise Forest park in Hainan, China, this tropical getaway is perfect for those looking for a digital detox. Known as birds nests, the cabins are made entirely of rosewood and other natural resources imported from Malaysia. The resort is also the first tropical coastal park to offer ecological sightseeing events, which brings you up close and personal with the abundance of wildlife that inhabits the landscape.
Star-gazing dome, Canada
This one’s for the night owls. Glen Oro Farm in Ontario, Canada (about 1.5 hours drive from Toronto) offers visitors a literal Igloo as a living space with the chance to stargaze from your bed. The farm makes a commitment to being eco-friendly during your stay: domes are heated entirely by wood pellet stoves, and UV-treated water systems encourage you not to bring bottled water. An enchanting forest, the stars above, a fire stove – it’s giving romcom.
Treetop lodge, Northern Island
In the secluded forests of Castlerock, a quiet coastal village on the coast of Northern Island, lies this hidden gem of a staycation. Panoramic views of the serene local wilderness, as well as open access to the 82 hectares of explorable forest ground, awaits you at this nature lovers’ retreat. If you're looking for that restorative nothing-cation, best believe you’ve found it. And if you’re up for it, the village's scenic coastal views make for beautiful walking, running and cycle routes.
Hinatuan Enchanted River, Philippines
Also known to locals as the Sacred River, this deep spring river resides on the Philippine island of Mindanao, and flows directly into the Pacific Ocean. The bay is known for being home to a variety of turtle species and is a natural oasis if we ever did see one. The river’s unique colours have inspired local legend, which says that Engkantos, mythical spirits said to be incarnations of family ancestors in Filipino culture, reside and protect the beautiful waters. If you find yourself island hopping in the Philippines, be sure to add this to your must-see list.
Ice glacier exploration, Iceland
If you’re looking to escape and cool off from everyday life, the glaciers of Iceland are just the remedy. One of the most well known aesthetic hot spots in this icy tundra is the Vatnajökull Glacier in the southeast of the island, where guided tours give you the chance to step inside an awe-inspiring ice cave. If you’re a sucker for getting up close and personal with nature, as well as learn more about the Earth’s dumbfounding geological properties (science and nature lovers, don’t be shy!), this glacial exploration getaway is one for you.
Antelope Canyons, Arizona (US)
This canyon in America is every cave explorer's dream. Characterised by its orange hues, still waterways and trippy sandstone formations, Antelope Canyon in Arizona is a hotspot for keen hikers and photographers, both of which travel here to admire the canyon’s natural beauty and mystery. As well as taking a guided tour, you can kayak in and around the canyon’s peaceful river, and cruise through the enchanting rock formations and underground caverns.
Ella, Sri Lanka
The serenity of these beautiful Sri Lankan hills in the small town of Ella is unmatched. The sun sets over low altitude clouds here, making the views from hiking trails a sight for sore eyes. But this location is best known as a relaxation haven. Aside from an array of different spa, pampering and wellness experiences for you to enjoy (like Dogs of Ella, where you can play and hike with local dogs!), you can also visit or even take a train ride on the infamous Nine Arches Bridge. Known to locals as The Bridge in the Sky, this is the perfect place to forget your stresses and get lost in panoramic views of nature.
Self-love retreat, Bali
Bali is known over the world as one of the most restful destinations, and a particularly good spot for the ancient Indian practice of yoga and tapping into spirituality. This personal development retreat is all about opening your mind to reimagine your self worth and potential. Filled with guided yoga classes and daily practices of group meditation, the retreat is designed to help you unwind and get in touch with your inner self. You also get the chance to eat traditional local Balinese cuisine – what more could you want?
Ayahuasca is a plant-based psychedelic that can have hallucinogenic effects on the brain. Historically, the plant has been used for religious and spiritual purposes by ancient Amazonian tribes, but it is still used today for its properties that are believed to help with meditation and healing. In these ayahuasca retreats like the one above, usage of the remedy is guided by an experienced and educated shaman, who helps you through a safe out-of-body experience and into an altered state of consciousness. You can find these retreats predominantly in Peru, Costa Rica and Brazil – they are treated by many as the holy grail to calmness and self-discovery.
Dinner with a view
Kastraki-Meteoro Restaurant, Greece
Sunset chasers, this one’s for you. Located in the beautiful city of Kamalata in Southern Greece, this coastal bar is the summer destination of dreams. Serving up well-reviewed, traditional Mediterranean cuisine, it’s safe to say an evening spent here would let you eat your Mamma Mia heart out.
Magic Mountain Café, Thailand
Known for a really, pretty excellent cup of coffee (and of course, we mustn't forget, beautiful Thai cuisine), the Magic Mountain Cafe in Pha Chang Noi, Thailand is certainly where we’d prefer to eat our breakfast. Sitting on the edge of a cliff, the cafe and hotel offers unprecedented views of the peaceful mountainous terrain. You can also stay here, with the accommodation offering a not-so-shabby private balcony and hot tub experience.
Yuvarlak Cay Waterfall Restaurant, Turkey
This majestic waterfall restaurant in the Northeastern Turkish town of Köyceğiz is doing the most. Not only can you eat a meal as the shallow waterfall stream runs across your feet, but the little park offers a playful array of pools, water swings and viewing points to enjoy this natural gem. Be careful before deciding to take a dip, though: the water is notoriously cold!
Euskadi, Basque Country
Situated in what is known as the Basque country, Spain, this rocky islet (a very small, unnamed island) is filled with legend and scenic views – not to mention it was one of the filming locations for season seven of Game of Thrones. Local myth suggests that you should walk up the famous 241 steps, where you will encounter an ancient hermitage that dates back to the 10th century. Once arrived, it is said to bring you good luck to ring the bell there three times. But this isn’t its only attraction – the basque country is widely known as one of the best places in the world for surfing due to its consistent, year round water swells. If you’re a keen and experienced surfer, check out Euskadi or other sporting hotspots like Sopelena.
Tucked away on the Italian Riviera, the fishing village of Portofino is one of Italy’s lesser known gems. Both quaint and eclectic with its calming river punts, cobbled squares, outdoor cafés and beautifully pastel architecture, Portofino looks like it literally stepped straight out of an oil painting. The village is known for its amazing seafood cuisine, art exhibitions and a harbour decked out in boating experiences perfect for exploring the Riviera.
North pole/Polar night
Hey, not everyone’s idea of a perfect holiday involves sipping wine and catching rays on a beach, and that’s okay. To end our global tour, let’s round it off with one of the planet’s most bizarre and beautiful natural phenomena: polar night. Known only to the polar circles (Antarctic and Arctic), this annual occurrence causes complete darkness for around two and a half months, and no sight of the sun for about four. Those local to the North Pole, however, go about life as usual, and the community comes together for wholesome events like the torch walk. The polar night is basically an ode to cosy season, and we’re not mad at it. Perpetual fireplaces, snowy walks, hot drinks, seasonal lights, fluffy socks – it’s basically a prolonged festive season. Not to mention the lack of light makes it a stellar time to catch the Northern Lights – a sight you most definitely have to see at least once.
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